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Flash Review 2, 5-13: Star Power
Cojocaru Elevates ABT 'Bayadere'

By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung

NEW YORK -- The Royal Ballet's Alina Cojocaru made the first of just two season guest appearances with American Ballet Theatre in Natalia Makarova's production of "La Bayadere" (after Marius Petipa) Friday at the Metropolitan Opera House. The palpable buzz in the audience recalled last year's performances featuring guest artist Carlos Acosta. Cojocaru, as Nikiya (a temple dancer) partnered by Angel Corella as Solor (a noble warrior), demonstrated the reasons for her fast-rising reputation.

There are two sides as pertains to the wisdom of inviting guest principal dancers from other companies to perform for brief stints with the company, as Acosta did last year. On the one hand, it might be undesirably humbling for ABT's regular talented principals to be overshadowed by the attention surrounding the guests. On the other hand, it could be a blessing for the regular principals to have the spotlight averted. Perhaps most important, the guests surely raise the level of competitiveness to challenge the regular principals into performing their best.

Cojocaru -- whose well-proportioned physique does not immediately give away her diminutive size -- entered and floated about the stage in tiny, supple bourrees. She is gifted with exceptional turn-out; beautifully arched feet; high, easy extensions, and a pliant back. But what distinguishes her are the intangibles -- a serene fluidity of phrasing, a high attention to detail, and an innate knowledge of ballet that frees her to inhabit her role and concentrate less on doing the difficult steps, rather remarkable for such a young dancer (she is not yet 22). She possesses an effortlessness in the execution of simple, gravity-defying moves, such as in a sequence in which she lunged deeply, head to her knee, and stepped back into an arabesque with her leg floating up lightly as if pushed from below. At times she evoked a softer Natalia Makarova, especially with her hair drawn up in a long, flowing scarf.

Corella, always a bright spot in any cast, looked exceptionally pleased to be paired with Cojocaru as they are perfectly sized for one another. Corella has always had youthful exuberance in spades; perhaps some years under his belt have allowed him to contain his energy more, sometimes implying it rather than always demonstrating it. This seemed so on Saturday night, when even a small shooing away gesture held an uncommon gravity. He lifted Cojocaru with ease and partnered her capably and attentively. Corella is most happy spinning, and that he did, unreeling his lefty fast turns in second, ending with a double-digit revolution pirouette.

Here's what I mean by the regular company being upstaged: Stella Abrera made the evening's notable role debut as Gamzatti, the Rajah's daughter betrothed to Solor. A debut here is normally considered newsworthy as ballet goes. Abrera, a soloist, has an elegant, noble demeanor, and looked perfectly at home dripping with rhinestones, if a bit nervous. Both she and Corella slipped slightly ending turns, perhaps betraying the tension in this highly anticipated evening in front of chattering balletomanes. I trust that repeated stints in roles will give Abrera the confidence she needs to completely capture them.

The women's corps looked spiffy in Act II's Kingdom of the Shades -- not a wobble in sight in the difficult sustained second position developpe, their collective timing down to within a breath. Renata Pavem, Erica Cornejo, and Maria Riccetto showed finesse in their solos, making the miniscule stuttering hops on one toe, or mellifluously drawing one turn over several counts. Joaquin De Luz showed soaring bravado and sharp feet as the Bronze Idol. The evening had a celebratory air -- a punctuation mark in the heart of ballet season in New York. Charles Barker conducted the score by Ludwig Minkus, sometimes at brisk speeds. Theoni Aldredge designed the costumes, Pierluigi Samaritani the lavish sets, and Toshiro Ogawa the lighting.

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